How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beautiful People: Friendship Edition

Chances are, if you’ve followed any writing blogs long enough, you’ve seen this link-up. However, this is the first time I’ve participated (I was missing out!). It’s fun and valuable to get to know your story characters by answering questions about them. It fleshes out the story in your mind, and the better-developed reality spills onto the novel’s pages, even if you don’t share all the information you find.

Beautiful People’s theme this month is friendship. The characters I’m taking through this are who else but Ellen and Marion Dashiell, from my 1930s Sense and Sensibility retelling. Four months ago was the sibling edition, which would have been perfect, but Ellen and Marion are best friends, so this one works, too! Without further adieu…

1. How long have they known each other, and how close are they?
Marion is 17, so it’s been 17 years, though neither of them remember meeting the other. They’ve simply always been together, like a unit. A disparate unit, each side drifting in different directions—especially once they grew older—but a cohesive one, sharing all their earliest memories (they never remember those memories exactly the same). 

2. What’s their earliest memory of being best friends?
Growing up, they did everything together. They had other friends, and Marion even went through a string of little girls she called her best friends, exclusive of her sister, but Ellen was always there as the confidante of confidantes, the one she could go to when she had trouble with those pseudo best friends. They don’t recall ever not being best friends, though they didn’t always realize it. That most likely happened as teenagers, when their lives got rockier. But only during 1935 and the course of Suit and Suitability does their friendship and sisterhood get thrown in the crucible and they comprehend just what they mean to each other.

3. Do they fight? How long do they typically fight for?
Yes, but their fights are usually a swift rainstorm … they’re over when every word has been shed, within a few minutes of when they’ve begun. Both girls are forthright communicators. If something doesn’t get resolved right away, they’ll go for some time with uneasy feelings toward each other until they rehash things another day, but they never fight off and on over the same issue for days and days.

4. Are their personalities similar or do they compliment each other?
You’ll never find more complimentary personalities in any other pair of friends! Ellen is reserved, responsible, industrious, and pretty unadventurous; Marion is vibrant and outgoing, artistic and romantic, adventurous and blunt. However, both are dedicated to their life goals and fiercely loyal to loved ones.

5. Who is the leader of their friendship (if anyone)?
Marion is more active and has the needier personality, so Ellen often bends to help or accommodate her in whatever way she can; keeping track of Marion is one of her life’s projects. But Marion defers to Ellen on most major issues, because she respects her greater wisdom. Thus the leadership evens out.

6. Do they have any secrets from each other?
Right now, Ellen is consciously keeping a secret from Marion. Besides that, there have been things Ellen hasn’t told Marion—like her deepest fears and desires, the times she’s been angry with someone—but Ellen doesn’t think of those as secrets. As for Marion, she doesn’t keep secrets from anyone. 

7. How well do they know each other’s quirks and habits?
They know them like their own. For example: Marion knows to expect a subdued reaction from Ellen about everything, and that if she’s angry or frustrated she’ll tear paper into thin, even strips. Ellen knows how Marion will sing or say lines to herself, and how mortified she’ll get over a performance gone wrong. 

8. What kind of things do they like to do together?
Once in their teen years their interests split widely, so there aren’t many activities they do together anymore. They used to read, play dolls and games, and act out adventure stories in the beautiful yard their family had on Cambridge Street. But now they simply like to sit in the same room and talk about life, Ellen knitting or needling something and Marion gesturing to illustrate her points. Or sometimes they like to sit in the same room with their own pursuits, Marion reading or playing Aunt Jennie’s out-of-tune piano, and Ellen reading or, again, doing handwork. Out of the house, they like going to movies and bowling, and Ellen likes to hear Marion discuss her plays and to go see the productions.

9. Describe each character’s fashion style (use pictures if you’d like!). How are their styles different/similar?
Well, I have this passage early in the story where Ellen and Marion discuss just this subject:

Marion … fastened a favorite necklace of hers—a long  silver chain suspending a blue glass stone in a sunburst—around Ellen’s neck. “There. That tops everything off and you don’t look like such a secretary anymore.”
Ellen glanced in the full-length mirror. Her dress was light gray, circled with a narrow black belt, with a rippling collar, buttons down the bodice, and shallow pleats in the skirt. Conservative, and correct, and boring by Marion’s standards, it was the nicest dress she owned. The teal-blue one with lace overlays had snags, and it was too youthful for the look she was going for. She grinned. “What’s wrong with looking like a secretary? They have to look nice; not gorgeous like an actress, but dolled up all the same. Haven’t I been doing my job?”
“Sure you have!” Marion laid her hands on Ellen’s upper arms and slid her chin onto her shoulder; both brown-eyed, fresh-looking faces stared into the mirror side by side. “But there’s a secretary look and there’s a dinner date look. I’m going for the dinner date look. Ya need jewelry for that.”
Ellen just wants to look decent and classy for her office job, but Marion pursues fashion. She has no money, but she’s a genius with a needle and can usually adapt her and her sisters’ clothing to keep up with the times. They have their preferred colors—Ellen, gray and blue; Marion, white, pink, mint green … anything bright. (I wish I had pictures, but I didn’t have enough time to find any. But take a glance at my book cover to see their faces, at least.)

10. How would their lives be different without each other?
They’d have one less sister, and as much as they love thirteen-year-old Greta, she just isn’t close enough in age to be as close in friendship. Ellen’s life would be much quieter, and she might even find herself desperately missing the spice Marion sprinkles generously. Life would also be less challenging without Marion to watch over, and Ellen would like that even less. She’d be so bored she might have to adopt another sister, or hope Greta turns out to be a huge handful (not!). Marion would feel adrift … Ellen anchors her just as much, or more, than her parents do. An exciting life is great as long as you have someone who understands you more than you do yourself. Ellen helps her aspire to the good, and deep down she’s afraid she might not be able to stand without her.

I hope you enjoyed this first-ever insider’s look into Suit and Suitability! Which sister would you prefer as a best friend? Do you have any pairs of best friends in your stories?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Origins of a WIP

Now that the Vintage Jane Austen has been announced, I can talk about it as much as any other work-in-progress in the past. Which thrills me! I look forward to getting back to those fun questionnaires, interviews, and snippets (though I haven’t noticed the official Snippets of Story posts, I can come up with my own version) that are so enjoyable to share!

Hopefully you got a chance to see all the covers for this series via the links on my announcement post. (The cover for Northanger Abbey is forthcoming.) I want to specially mention the person responsible for those stunning works of art dripping with vintage appeal: the lovely and talented Hannah Scheele! 

One advantage of working on this project is that you have six other people motivating you (including Hannah, the cover designer); you’re not on your own here. We can cheer each other on, help out with research, brainstorm one another’s story problems, and gush over 1930s memorabilia like movies, cars, and clothes. We’re each other’s fans.

This is my first time to write a retelling, and my first time to write historical fiction designated for publication. What better story to retell than Sense and Sensibility, the first book I read by Jane Austen (one of my favorite authors) and one of my all-time favorite novels? Retelling it makes me love and obsess over the story even more. I’ve read it three times and will most likely do so once more before I finish my retelling.

As for writing historical fiction, I have plans for stories set in all sorts of eras gone by. But the 1930s is a propitious beginning. People will always be intrigued by it because of the Great Depression. It was a story the whole nation went through, therefore stories are easy to find, the challenges painfully real, and memories readily at hand. Mention “The Great Depression” and you get a vision of heroism, as if you were to say “World War II” or “The Civil War” or “The Wild West.” People expect great stories from the era. Tons of analyses and studies have been written about it. Primary sources, including my grandparents, are at my fingertips. Photos, videos, movies, recordings, bring it to life. People spoke differently enough to make dialogue interesting (including all those great expressions) but not too different to need modernizing or translating.

I thought I’d one day like to write a Great Depression story, so when this opportunity emerged, I jumped for it. It’s been such fun to research, climb into the time period, and write as if I lived there. Believe it or not, novels—those written in the ’30s by Grace Livingston Hill—have been some of the most helpful, flavorful resources.

I am really truly blessed to be a part of this project. I started Suit and Suitability in January and am closing in on the finish page (a month, two months away? Here’s hoping and working hard!), so the pace has been invigorating, just what I needed after two slow-in-coming novels. I’ve learned some tricks I hope to apply to future novels to accelerate their process, too. (They won’t be retellings, but perhaps that won’t matter.) The camaraderie of my fellow authors is reassuring. Certain issues and ponderings are cropping up in S&S (like they always do) that make me pause, then proceed carefully and prayerfully … such as why bad things happen and how we should respond and trust God because of them. I thank God for leading me to be a part of this series!

Like many other writers, I’m the happiest with my craft when I’m in the middle of a work-in-progress.

Have you written a retelling before? If not, what story or novel would you write a retelling of? Also, what part of the creative process is your favorite (it doesn’t have to be writing)?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Introducing the Vintage Jane Austen

Saturday has arrived, and with it my special announcement!

You may have noticed me mentioning my WIP from time to time … but also, that I never went into any details. I was saving up until today.

The Vintage Jane Austen

A multi-author series due to be released Spring 2017! Six novels, six authors, six retellings of Jane Austen’s classic works set in turbulent Great Depression America.

I am honored to be a part of this team with my novel Suit and Suitability:

Canton, Ohio, 1935. Ellen and Marion Dashiell’s world crumbles when their father is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. What is left of their family must relocate to a small town where survival overshadows dreams. Hard-working Ellen, trying to hold the family together, loses her job and is parted from the man she’s falling in love with, while Marion fears she will never be the actress she aspires to be and will never marry the dashing hero who has entered her life. But does a third man hold the key to the Dashiells’ restoration and happiness?

Visit the other Vintage Jane Austen authors!
Laura Engelmann

Do you want to be involved, too? Also added to this special series will be a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen. Click the banner for more details!
Submissions now closed

Now that the special announcement is made, keep an eye on my blog for WIP updates and articles!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Because My Thoughts Are Too Scattered

Yes, as I was saying, because my thoughts are too scattered among this, that, and the other thing (mainly because I have been well behaved and have been concentrating on my WIP), this is another one of those “what’s up” posts that hopefully will contain a couple of interesting tidbits for you.

  • This is the link to my Read-to-Win video answering the question, “What is your favorite genre?” and this is the link to this week’s video, where I show a talent I have besides writing … if you have ever wanted to see me perform a martial arts form, it’s in this video. (I loved the other authors’ talents so far and can’t wait to see the others!)
  • This Saturday stay tuned for a special announcement!
  • For any writer going through a season of silence, this article by Sarah Clarkson beautifully expresses the emotions involved and why it turns out to be a good thing. 

  • Lastly, have any of you ever read Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone? I just finished it today. It’s one of those long, complex Victorian novels I love to immerse myself in … but this one is also judiciously mixed with the detective novel genre (it’s been called the earliest detective novel, though Wilkie Collins had no intention of fathering a new genre). “Civilized” Victorian society is haunted by the romance of India in this intricately webbed novel that will keep you guessing till the very end! (Provided you haven’t seen the movie first.)